Where should I go to grad school?
April 8, 2005 5:05 PM   Subscribe

Where should I go to graduate school? Program 1 is about a decade old, is pretty good match for me, and is well respected within the field. Program 2 is several decades old, is an even better match for me, is even more respected within the field, and is located in a much better environment for internships, off-campus jobs, post-graduation employment prospects, and so forth. So what's the problem? Program 1 has offered a full tuition scholarship, while program 2 has offered only less than a third of its tuition.

Disclaimer/excuse: I think this is a good question for AskMe since doubtless many other people are making similar decisions right now: School 1 for cheap or School 2 for nor not cheap but the better program? However, in the interest of getting the best answer to my question, here are some specifics:

Program 1: Communication, Culture, and Technology at Georgetown University
Program 2: Media Ecology in the Department of Culture and Communication at New York University

I've heard said many times in reference to postgraduate eductation, "If you have to pay for it, you shouldn't be doing it." I'd much rather enroll in program 2; its the better department in the better school with the better resources in the better location etc etc etc. But I'd have to be insane to turn down a full tuition scholarship, right? No M.A. program is worth $30k in debt, right?
posted by ChasFile to Education (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In general, yes, follow the money -- unless one program is tons better than the other and therefore worth the extra money. But I don't think that's the case here: both programs, you say, are good matches for you and have good reputations -- one is merely better than the other. But is it $30,000 better? Would that $30,000 investment be recouped down the road with any degree of certainty? And if NYU had turned you down flat, would you have had any qualms about accepting Georgetown's offer?

And -- to look at it another way -- graduate programs compete for students: Georgetown, by offering you a full scholarship, is saying that they want you more than NYU does. That may say something about how good a match they think you are. It's never a bad thing to have a university that wants you badly enough to pay your entire way.
posted by mcwetboy at 5:20 PM on April 8, 2005

No M.A. program is worth $30k in debt, right?


Call up the professor who you'd be working with at NYU, and explain your dilemma. Grad schools are often willing to meet a better aid offer as long as someone on the faculty is motivated to bring you there. If, on the other hand, your prospective NYU advisor simply wishes you good luck at Georgetown, take that as firm academic/career advice. Snap up that offer.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 5:35 PM on April 8, 2005

Program 1. They want you more. You're likely to have a better experience there (an experience not filled with money stress will be better).

The one thing that could conceivably tip the balance towards program 2 is this: If program 1 funds hardly anybody but they're giving you a free ride, but Program 2 gives everyone equally crappy funding, I might consider Program 2.

The reason is that you don't want to be a in program where everyone is miserable because they're not funded -- except you. In that situation there's a possibility you will become the target of their misery. This may or may not be a problem at Program 1, but if you're the only one (or one of few) getting funding, I would ask the grad students about what the dynamic is between funded and unfunded students.
posted by duck at 5:38 PM on April 8, 2005

Oh it's an MA program...in that case, Program 1 no matter what others' funding is. You can suck it up and be their target for a year or two if it comes to that. I'd suck it up and be a target for 30K.
posted by duck at 5:46 PM on April 8, 2005

I wouldn't worry about the dynamic of funded vs. unfunded graduate students. I highly doubt anybody at that level would hold that sort of thing against you.

Other than that, I can't really give you any good advice. The suggestion to call Program 2 and ask for more money to meet Program 1's is a good idea, though, and you might find out about other sources of funding you hadn't anticipated.

After that you're just basically making a cost-value judgement of graduate school, but don't forget to weigh in the value of your own time as well.
posted by onalark at 6:07 PM on April 8, 2005

Do you have undergraduate profs who can give you advice specific to your chosen field? Is it possible (I have no way of judging for your field) that more prestigious grad program could be a better investment in your career?
posted by Pattie at 6:22 PM on April 8, 2005

How's your debt load from undergraduate? If you're up to your adenoids in debt from your Bachelor's degree, I'd think twice about taking on an additional $30k. If you went through undergrad loan-free (lucky bastard), then that's not as much of a consideration.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:29 PM on April 8, 2005

Where do you hope to work after you graduate? If you want to work in New York, there's no better place to go to school than New York.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:36 PM on April 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm glad you asked this because I am going through a similar dilemma, just a different field: chemistry Ph.D. For me the difference is not as stark in terms of funding, but it is in terms of reputation of school. To choose the one that seems a better fit but lesser reputation and more money, or the one that has a better reputation but maybe not so great a fit and less money? I hate this....seems like such a huge life decision. People keep telling me I'm lucky to even have a choice, but that doesn't make the decision any easier. Is your deadline the 15th as well?
posted by rio at 6:42 PM on April 8, 2005

Georgetown or NYU, Harvard or Yale, Stanford or Michigan, Rocky Road or Moosetracks--unless there is/are some issue(s) unrelated to the school(s) this is a no lose situation--two fine schools and both want you--It would seem prudent to ask your self "why would I not go to Georgetown"--Good luck
posted by rmhsinc at 7:07 PM on April 8, 2005

nakedcodemonkey has it. Call a professor you think you'd like to work with at NYU, should you enter their program. Explain that you're very interested in working with that professor in that program, but that finances are tight and you have a competing offer. It's amazing the pull some professors have with admissions and financial aid. Also, call admissions or whatever office is in charge of the scholarship decisions. Let them know the situation as well, and they may cut you a break even without hearing from a professor.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:56 PM on April 8, 2005

Another agreer with nakedcodemonkey. Two things to keep in mind, when telling professors or graduate chairs or whomever about this sort of thing:
1) it's already been such a pain in the ass for them to winnow their list and have you now on it, that they'd rather get you then lose you. This is only very slightly true for grad students but becomes more and more important at higher levels.
2) the people you're talking to want you there. It's natural, when asking for money, to fall into an adversarial stance, and there's no reason. Also, don't be coy about what you've been offered elsewhere, and do give detail. The next step is for the professor to go forth, empowered with the data you've given, and engage the people who really have the money saying "How do you expect us to maintain our reputation over these upstarts if you're so stingy? Face reality and open your pursestrings!"

Good luck -- and to you, too, rio!
posted by Aknaton at 10:52 PM on April 8, 2005

A couple of things to consider:

1. Some schools run 'for-profit' masters programs. As an example, when I applied to graduate school in English, I got into the University of Chicago English MA program, which offered my no money and was full-tuition. I wasn't considering going, since I'd gotten into another fully-funded Ph.D. program--but, afterwards, I asked around about U-Chicago. It turns out that U-Chicago basically admits a ton of people every year and charges them full tuition to subsidize the Ph.D. funding; they don't pay particular attention to their students or take the programs very seriously (so I'm told--this could be total hearsay).

That's not to say that the program isn't good, and I have _no idea_ whether or not this is true with NYU's masters, but you should be aware that you may be looking at two very different programs, in ways that might not be evident on the surface. You should ask around about this with people who would know.

2. What are you doing with the degree? If you're planning to go on in academia, I could see that minor differences in the quality of your masters program would matter; if you're planning to enter the workforce or do something that does not involve doctoral work, then they are both great schools and you should go where you're funded.

3. As a grad student, I can say from semi-first-hand experience that the funded experience is vastly superior to the tuition experience, because a) it is more like holding a steady job, which is a lot better; and b) because it eases stress inside the program, which really does exist when their is competition for money.

So I tend to say Georgetown; but it's also true, especially if you're going on in academics, that a good fit can make all the difference in your experience, and that, as a grown-up, getting a great education is exponentially more satisfying than getting a good one. So if there really is a difference between the two that you feel is valuable, it wouldn't be a bad idea to pick NYU. You can always do EssayEdge or something in the summer to make up the difference and cover some of your costs. You just have to make sure that the decision isn't based on an abstract survey of the program, but from a real conviction--based on visiting and talking to professors, say--that NYU is better for you.

On preview: yes, definitely try to get NYU to give you more based upon your other offer.
posted by josh at 5:20 AM on April 9, 2005

Take the money. Or use the money to make the other program give you more money. Grad school debt is an awful, frustrating thing.
posted by willpie at 9:24 AM on April 9, 2005

The only thing that would make me take the school that is asking for tuition is if they are the best in their feild and offer connections that no one else can offer (for instance an Ivy League school opens you up to their entire community).

For a media degree I would absolutely choose NYU. New York is the world's capital of media. There are more opportunities, more connections, more vigor, and the media community in NYC that you will not have in DC. And NYU's absolute expertise is exposing you to those opportunities and connections.
posted by scazza at 1:00 PM on April 9, 2005

one minor detail - i suspect it's better to be the star student at a good but not best institution, rather than middle of the pack at the "best". you get better references, a bigger boost to your morale, better access to the staff, and generally stand out more clearly to the rest of the world. but i may be coloured, in that you could class me as "back of the pack in the best", and the grass often looks greener elsewhere :o)

otherwise, just want to emphasise the point made above about them wanting you if they've made an offer. you'd be surprised how much they care about getting the student they wanted if you could see the internal politics. so don't worry about offending them, and expect them to help you if possible.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:31 PM on April 9, 2005

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